Counterexample: College Makes Someone Successful Alone?

While studying a famous theology book titled What’s Divine about Divine Law? Early Perspectives, written by Prof. Christine Hayes, I ended up with an interesting Google search result. At Yale, they interviewed couples, like the author and her husband, who were tenured Professors to find out how their profession is impacting their family lives. In one case, one couple from the philosophy department found that one of the first words of their child learned was counterexample. I decided to add this anecdote purposefully in discussing the college admission.

Widespread college admission scandals in 2019, including the involvement of few Hollywood celebrities, shocked the nation and tainted the reputation of Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, UCLA, and USC admission processes. The underlying question is – why someone is willing to pay a bribe of $400K to over $1M just for a college seat. Well, that’s how we are engineered to think about colleges. While these are overtly criminal acts, there are also many subtle ways to push through family connections, collaborations, and donations in the elite institutes that we often hear. But there are far more seats available for legitimate admissions. So, there is no practical reason to feel tensed here.

photo of family sitting on floor while reading book
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

In America, the college admission has turned into basically fulfilling some checkmarks underestimating the noble goal of enlightening the hearts and minds of the students regardless of their backgrounds. Elite colleges often have students from expensive private schools with a similar mindset ignoring the broader social diversity, and ultimately creating a modern-day caste system in America by celebrating the obsession of exclusivity. The graduates are often untouched by the everyday struggle of the ordinary citizens. Andrew Yang cited in one of his podcasts from a study that 80% of the graduates from the IVY leagues end up in the six major fields such as finance in Wall Street, tech in Silicon Valley, law firms, management consulting, and two others which are neither innovative nor unique. So, the whole argument that elite colleges make someone exceptional fails badly, because they are just following the trends instead of creating new ones. The reason top institutes get so much press is because of their research work by professors and PhD students, creating intellectual property and global collaboration; but not for training the undergrads.

You can think of big universities like Facebook, a platform that gives the freedom to the researchers and professors to create their groups, invite friends and colleagues, and bring grants while the university administration moderates the finance and management. Many classes in undergrads are taken by teaching assistants and adjunct professors, which are not inherently bad, but a deception in the brochures and admission materials. Moreover, the research divisions of the industry and government labs are full of people from diverse college experiences defying college ranking. It is also important to note that LinkedIn data-based research also showed that top companies are no longer buying certain college brand names alone.

children having their exam
Photo by Arthur Krijgsman on

What parents often forget that they are sending 16-18 years old kids to a new environment. Based on the personality and circumstances, college experiences can be wildly different in the same school. It is nearly impossible to predict someone’s success from a specific college name. Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs were famous dropouts. Few years ago, PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel created a $100K fellowship for young people to drop out of college and start working in Silicon Valley to pursue their dreams. Colleges are indeed efficient to cluster the talents in their campuses. However, unless there are intrinsic values already embedded in the person, it is unlikely that college alone will transform the person. I have a close friend who dropped out of the PhD programs in the second semester, got too busy with her own projects, and started working in the Bay area earning more than many university professors. I don’t know what her first few words were, but her dad was a world-famous physicist in a top university and trained her very well from her childhood. The things people learn from their families have a far-reaching impact than attending certain colleges. By that time, it is too late to change the trajectory for most of the people. Therefore, low-income families have an inherent disadvantage to plan properly. Moreover, the immigrants also often suffer from the cultural barriers and lack of awareness to realize how the system works in this country, how to groom their kids to make them competitive, and what resources are available for them. Often, they bet on the college admission alone forgetting the alternative resources. These are the reasons I have started this website so that everyone gets an opportunity to plan which might not be available in the schools they are attending.

The theme of the book I mentioned earlier centers around to prove that there is not a single framework of explanation to describe the divine laws even within the community who nurture it in contrast to the simplified version embedded in our ordinary unconscious minds. For college names, it is also a multidimensional story. There is no short answer to find the role of a college upon someone without knowing the person carefully. Parents often invest in summer camps and advanced programs but forget the kids might need evaluation before attending a college in a better way.

Interestingly, University names matter only for certain cases, which I will term as Counterexamples. I will write about that soon. Stay tuned.  

Published by Iftekhar Jaim, PhD Scientist and Crafty Engineer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC)

My philosophy of life is to integrate my work and leisure to make the world a better place by actively pushing the technological limits that NASA and US Defense need or helping a stranger struggling in college. Since 2018 working at NASA GSFC gave me the opportunity to develop flight components for satellites and previously samples were launched to International Space Station (ISS). I worked in optics, microscopy, metallurgy, surface chemistry, condensed matter physics, microfabrication and quantum computing (reproduced by Google) during my PhD program. My Mechanical Engineering BSc helps me to quick fix the experimental setups. My expertise beyond academic research includes managing federal contracts, Intellectual Property (IP) development ( including ITAR & SBU compliant), industry standard lab management, serving professional societies and reviewing journals. I am open to collaborate in new projects and consultancy in both professional fields and career planning. On personal note, I am privileged to come from a very well-educated family but as an immigrant also correlate to the struggles to get initial traction from disadvantaged backgrounds in USA. I believe that individual voice matters and every limitation brings a new opportunity to change the world. To give back to the community I emphasize on the broader social engagement. I enjoy the diversity this country offers and committed to reduce the inequality gap by volunteering for social and educational causes. I enjoy inspiring the young people to be a part of STEM and often take part in such activities. My other passions are to study history, theology and tech development. In fact, I worked in science and colonial era war history which changed my worldview a decade ago. I also financially support liberal arts organizations representing minorities and humanitarian non-profits like ADL, Holocaust Museum and children hospitals.

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